Wasatch 100 more than a personal win
At mile marker 92 in the Wasatch 100, an ultra marathon stretching from Kaysville to Midway, Nancy Hendrickson sat down on a log and decided she couldn’t go any further.
With just a small distance to go, her feet hurt, she hadn’t slept in a day and the prospect of continuing was too overwhelming. Luckily, Hendrickson wasn’t alone.
This wasn’t just a personal race for the Parkite who turned 44 last Thursday. For every mile she covered, there was at least one person supporting her or depending on her to finish. At the top of that list were her two children, Nick and Sarah.
"I can just remember sitting on that log and hearing Nick and Sarah saying, ‘Mom, you are so awesome and that’s what got me through the end,’" Hendrickson said.
Eight miles later, Hendrickson finished with a time of 27 hours, 38 minutes an impressive fourth overall among female runners.
Hendrickson was running for other people’s children as well. As program administrator for the National Sports Foundation (NSF), a Park City-based Nordic skiing youth development program, and a parent of two Nordic ski jumpers, she is well aware of the financial burdens that come with the sport. So, she decided to run to raise money for scholarships to help defray travel costs and program fees.
"It was a personal challenge, but I definitely thought about the money I was raising," Hendrickson said.
In fact, Hendrickson has dreams of setting up a scholarship fund that would allow underprivileged youth to have the opportunity to try Nordic programs for more than just one day and then allow them to become involved if they are interested.
Her dedication to helping the program was reciprocated on the race trail. Hendrickson said that at every aid station there was a contingent of NSF parents and friends to cheer her on and a larger group awaited her with a party of sorts at the finish line.
"I feel so blessed to have so many people supporting me," Hendrickson said.
Support was key throughout the 100-mile race. Hendrickson recalls wanting to stop, at mile 62, but she had a team helping her that she said was unmatched. A crew, including her children, Craig Mogel, a good friend and Margie Swart, former marathon buddy who flew in from Virginia, were assigned to meet her at aide stations with water, food, clothes and to keep Hendrickson’s eye on the finish line.
"They were just so tremendous and so attentive," Hendrickson said.
She was also flanked by three pacers — fellow runners who joined Hendrickson in the race for about 25 miles at a time to keep her happy, healthy and hydrated. She was first joined by Billy DeMong, Olympian and U.S. Ski Team Nordic combiner. Used to long, intense workouts on a daily basis, DeMong took his job in stride, and resorted to telling Hendrickson jokes to keep her mind off of the overwhelming task at hand. Next she was joined by friend Warren Driggs who just kept a light conversation and made sure Hendrickson was remembering to eat and drink intermittently. Her final pacer was another friend, Alan Johnson, who helped Hendrickson push through the 4,000 foot elevation drop into Midway and conquer the most demanding parts of the race. She says it was Johnson that helped her focus on the finish and realize her yearlong goal of finishing a 100-miler.
Hendrickson first entertained the notion of tackling the Wasatch 100 when a friend of hers pulled out of the race last year with stomach problems and Hendrickson began to wonder if she could actually finish such a race. She had already tackled a regular marathon and had recently finished the Squaw Peak 50-mile race.
"I was just at a stage in my life," Hendrickson said.
The key to completing the race for Hendrickson was breaking it down into increments. The distance between each aide station became separate races. She made sure to change her clothes, wash her face and brush her teeth before the final leg. She had three distinct goals: get to the start line, get to finish line and do so in under 30 hours.
"The [bad] episodes I had was because I knew the course in my head. It was mind over matter or it was overwhelming," Hendrickson said.
She also took necessary precautions. All the hills were walked and she carried a flashlight during the dark of night. She took a few tumbles, but survived relatively unscathed.
The only residual effects were her stomach and feet. Wednesday night marked her first real meal while a blood blister and sore toes told the tale of two pairs of shoes over 100 miles.
She also has a sense of accomplishment that she can keep with her forever. Before the race she was bundle of nerves. A pre-race group meeting filled with career ultra marathoners complete with multiple tattoos and curious facial hair creations, made her question if only the extreme survive.
"I felt like I had crossed over to the dark side," Hendrickson said.
But finish she did, and to her surprise, in perfect time well, fourth perfect time. To celebrate her inward courage and stamina, she plans to sport some outward symbols. She has an "Under 30 hours" rodeo-style belt buckle courtesy of the race organizers and is planning to get a Wasatch 100 tattoo on her shoulder soon.
Oh, and don’t forget that smile she can’t seem to wipe off of her face.
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